What Are Kegel Exercises?
Kegel exercises are simple clench-and-release exercises that you can do to make the muscles of your pelvic floor stronger. Your pelvis is the area between your hips that holds your reproductive organs. The pelvic floor is really a series of muscles and tissues that forms a sling, or hammock, at the bottom of your pelvis. This sling holds your organs in place.
A weak pelvic floor may lead to issues such as the inability to control your bowels or bladder.
Once you understand Kegel exercises, you can do them anytime and anywhere—in the privacy of your own home or while waiting in line at the bank.
Why Do Kegel Exercises?
Both women and men can benefit from Kegel exercises.
Many factors can weaken the pelvic floor in women, such as pregnancy, childbirth, aging and weight gain. The pelvic floor muscles support the womb, the bladder, and the bowels. If the muscles are weak, these pelvic organs may lower into a woman’s vagina. Besides being extremely uncomfortable, this can also cause urinary incontinence.
Men may also experience weakening in the muscles of their pelvic floor as they age. This can lead to incontinence of both urine and feces, especially if the man has had prostate surgery.
Finding the Pelvic Floor Muscles in Women
When you are first starting Kegel exercises, finding the right set of muscles can be tricky. One way to find them is by placing a clean finger inside your vagina and tightening your vaginal muscles around your finger.
You can also locate the muscles by trying to stop your urine mid-flow. The muscles you use for this action are your pelvic floor muscles. Get used to how they feel when they contract and relax.
However, you should use this method for learning purposes only. It is not a good idea to start and stop your urine regularly, or to frequently do Kegel exercises when you have a full bladder. Incomplete emptying of the bladder can raise your risk for a urinary tract infection (UTI).
Talk with your gynecologist if you are still not sure you have found the right muscles. He or she may recommend using an object called a vaginal cone. You insert a vaginal cone into the vagina and then use your pelvic floor muscles to keep it in place.
Bio-feedback training can also be very useful in helping identify and isolating your pelvic floor muscles. In this procedure, a doctor will insert a small probe into your vagina or put adhesive electrodes on the outside of your vagina or anus. You will be asked to try to do a Kegel. A monitor will show whether you contracted the correct muscles and how long you were able to hold the contraction.
Finding the Pelvic Floor Muscles in Men
Men often have the same kind of trouble when it comes to identifying the correct group of pelvic floor muscles. For men, one way to find them is to insert a finger into the rectum and try to squeeze it—without tightening the muscles of the abdomen, buttocks, or thighs.
Another helpful trick is to tense the muscles that keep you from passing gas.
If you are still having trouble, practice stopping the flow of urine. As with women, this is a reliable way to locate the pelvic floor muscles, but it should not become a regular practice.
Biofeedback can also help men locate the pelvic floor muscles. If you are having trouble locating them on your own, you may want to make an appointment with your doctor.
Goals and Benefits of Kegel Exercises
Always empty your bladder before doing Kegel exercises. As a beginner, you should find a quiet, private place to sit or to lie down before doing your exercises. As you practice, you will find you can do them anywhere.
When you first start doing Kegel exercises, tense the muscles in your pelvic floor for a count of three, then relax them for a count of three. Keep going until you have done 10 repetitions. Over the next several days, practice until you can hold your muscles tense for a count of 10. Your goal should be to do three sets of 10 repetitions every day.
Don’t be discouraged if you do not see the results you want immediately. According to the Mayo Clinic, Kegel exercises may take as long as 12 weeks to have an effect (Mayo, 2010). They also work differently for each person. Some people show great improvement in muscle control and continence. Others show no real improvement. However, Kegels may prevent your condition from getting worse.
If you feel pain in your abdomen or back after a Kegel exercise session, it’s a sign that you’re not doing them correctly. Always remember that, even as you contract your pelvic floor muscles, the muscles in your abdomen, back, buttocks, and sides should remain loose.
Finally, do not overdo your Kegel exercises. If you work the muscles too hard, they will become tired and unable to fulfill their necessary functions.